Probation kick-started some of Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools, but left others floundering and in some cases may have made them worse, a new study has found.
Now, Illinois is playing catch up, and it’s playing hard. Not since the Chicago School Reform Act was passed in 1988 have so many diverse groups rallied around a single issue in Springfield. Early childhood advocacy groups have joined forces with child care providers, school districts, state board of education officials, business leaders, even police organizations to map out an early childhood education system and build the public will to make it happen.
The tuition-based preschool program at Blaine Elementary has been a blessing for Beth Ryan, the mother of a 4-year-old with special needs. Chicago Public Schools launched full-day, tuition-based preschools two years ago to lure middle class families to enroll their children in district schools. Currently, there are 16 programs serving 360 students.
In 1996, Chase and McNair elementary schools were both placed on probation. Chase got off probation in 1997, but McNair is still on. These two schools, chosen by CATALYST, are examples of a pattern identified by researcher Jennifer O’Day: Test scores rose more sharply at schools where teachers trusted their colleagues, collaborated and took responsibility for all students—not just their own.
Over a 2½-year period, researchers recorded naturally occurring conversations in the homes of families with 1- and 2-year-old children. Not surprisingly, the children whose parents talked to them more developed bigger vocabularies and were more able to think conceptually-skills that make it easier to learn how to read.
Today, Leticia Barrera is an education organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) and one of several dozen parents from the area who are studying to become bilingual teachers through a program organized by LSNA. Called Nueva Generación, the program holds afternoon classes at the Monroe Community Center in the Monroe School Annex.
The federal Early Head Start Program funds programs run by 23 community-based organizations that serve more than 2,100 families in Illinois.
Now, some advocates are pushing for a universal-access program for children in this age group, too. “We would be remiss to overlook these important years,” says Samuel Meisels, president of the Erikson Institute.
Teachers in pre-kindergarten programs funded by the state, as well as all preschool teachers in the public schools, are required to have a bachelor’s degree and a Type 04 early childhood teaching certificate. To earn the certificate, teachers must pass a basic skills test, clock 100 hours of observation in an early childhood classroom and complete a supervised student teaching stint.
By September 1995, the nation’s first universal access pre-kindergarten program officially opened to all 4-year-olds, regardless of family income. Enrollment that year was 44,000—nearly three times higher than it had been the previous school year. By the 2002-03 school year, 65,000 children were enrolled, and the program’s annual budget was $128 million.
We were disappointed the article did not discuss why LSCs have this responsibility, or solicit more LSC perspectives on the challenges of principal leadership. Too often, the relationship between LSCs and principals is negatively stereotyped as “political” without seriously examining the reasons the legislature gave LSCs this authority in the first place.
Four new small schools will open this fall at Bowen, Orr and South Shore high schools, all of which began the process of breaking up into smaller units this year. Last fall, these schools created five small schools with grants from the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, which is funded by local foundations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Population of 3- and 4-year-olds: 356,000